Creative entrepreneurs found businesses and nonprofits that aim to improve artistic industries and communities. They create value by solving problems, streamlining systems, and responding to unmet needs.
Also called: Arts Entrepreneur, Startup Founder, Nonprofit Founder
What does a Creative Entrepreneur do?
Much like the tech entrepreneurs who defined the start of the 21st century, creative entrepreneurs make a living by solving problems—whether that means manufacturing a product that isn’t available on the market, founding a nonprofit organization to address a social or professional need, or developing an app or website that completely reshapes an industry. What sets creative entrepreneurs apart, however, is their passion for the arts and deep understanding of artistic industries, which are often insular and idiosyncratic—in other words, ripe for disruption. The whole process begins with an idea, honed through a collaborative process and presented to investors in the hopes of securing funding. If successful, the creative entrepreneur can begin the long and challenging process of building a company, taking the reins as its CEO or executive director. Projects can range in scale anywhere from super-local to international, target just about any aspect of the industry, and frequently make use of new technology.
More than in almost any other artistic industry, creative entrepreneurship is flourishing in the music industry. Startup companies are revolutionizing every aspect of the way artists reach their fans, from music streaming and distribution to social media marketing and merchandising. Long-established powerhouse industries like recording and publishing are being shaken up by democratized recording and production software, experimental artist management solutions, and major improvements to the way rights and royalties are tracked. The same is true for live music, as a fresh crop of companies bring changes to concert promotion and forward-thinking live experience designers bring their vision to the creation of new music festivals. There are also music education companies experimenting with app-based and online learning, instrument and hardware manufacturers who feel they can cut costs or bring something new to the market, and data analytics companies that are proving to be valuable in almost any 21st century endeavor. For a musician or music industry professional with entrepreneurial ambitions, opportunities are almost limitless.
Creative Entrepreneur at a Glance
An entrepreneurial career path takes many forms. Creative entrepreneurs might have a bachelor's, a master's, or no degree at all; they might start building their company at a young age, might land on a powerful idea after several years as artists or arts professionals, or might pass more than ten years in business, software development, or finance before shifting focus to the arts. There is no blueprint, in part because entrepreneurs are measured more by their transferable interpersonal and professional capacities than by the weight of their résumé. Job experience and education are valuable because they help entrepreneurs grow, understand the nuances of their industry, gain access to crucial connections and collaborators, and learn what it means to lead and inspire others, not because of what they represent on a piece of paper. In addition, it's a common experience for young entrepreneurs to find that skills gained from a seemingly unrelated work or education experience become absolutely vital when building their company.
It may surprise non-entrepreneurs to learn that it's considered normal for beginning entrepreneurs to fail with their first two or three companies. This isn't the red flag it might be taken as in other professions—in fact, it's practically a rite of passage. Those who stick with it, provided they learn from their mistakes, might eventually make their first successful business; this, incidentally, is the "wall" that must be overcome at the beginning of almost every entrepreneur's career. Entrepreneurs who manage it will find that subsequent projects benefit from increased investor confidence, accumulated industry connections, and of course all knowledge and experience gained in the meantime. Although seasoned entrepreneurs must still prove themselves each time they start a new project, the process is never as difficult as in the beginning.
Part of the beauty of being an entrepreneur is that work isn't usually found—it's created. Rather than beginning with a résumé and a cover letter, the "job search" for a creative entrepreneur begins with an idea: a problem or inefficiency to address and a plan for doing so. Landing on a solid idea can take a lot of time and multiple attempts, but it's only half the battle. From there, entrepreneurs must seek funding, which usually means giving presentations to potential investors or constructing a detailed crowdfunding campaign. If an entrepreneur is struggling to gain traction, he or she might join a business incubator or accelerator: programs that help startups hone their business model and secure investors, sometimes taking a percentage of equity in exchange.
Strong interpersonal skills: excellent leader, collaborator, and communicator
Ability to identify needs that are not being met and imagine creative solutions
Business strategy, finance, and budgeting
Can set goals, establish deadlines, manage a project
Hiring and managing personnel
Business presentation (in private and conference settings)
Software development (in tech-related ventures)
What sets entrepreneurs apart from non-entrepreneurs is the belief that anything can be improved and an inclination towards action. Entrepreneurs are unafraid to champion unpopular or unheard-of solutions; they go against the grain, test and experiment with new possibilities, and constantly move forward. They are open-minded, resilient, and open to failure. As this is a results-oriented profession, entrepreneurs must also be committed, focused, and flexible, ready to respond to last-minute changes and willing to put in extra work to solve unexpected problems.
As leaders, entrepreneurs must be deeply attuned to the people around them, just as capable of listening to others' thoughts and needs as of inspiring them with a strong vision. In order to have a successful business, they must clearly understand their own strengths and weaknesses, build trust with their employees, and split the work up effectively. They must also balance very broad, high-level concerns like long-term business strategy with the everyday, minute decision-making that gradually advances the company's interests. Finally, the ability to communicate and work well with artists is essential.
While entrepreneurs are executives of the companies they create, their work life is completely different from that of a typical CEO. Creative entrepreneurs are driven by results, highly invested in the success of their business, and involved in almost every aspect of decision making. This can lead to an amount of work far exceeding the traditional forty-hour week, as entrepreneurs work on pitching sponsors for increased funding, take care of executive paperwork, oversee the vision of the company, and are involved in decisions about marketing, hiring, product design, manufacturing, and more.
While starting a business is all-consuming, that doesn't mean an entrepreneur only thinks about a single project at a time, or that projects will follow clean and consistent lifecycles. Ideas are always being exchanged, new collaborators met, and new plans formed. An entrepreneur might work on a concept for a product, set it aside to pursue something different, and then return to the original idea years later. Like the creative process itself, entrepreneurship can be messy and unpredictable—which is also a big part of the appeal.